After 63 years of marriage, Anita and Jesse Martinez still laugh a lot. Sometimes at each other, but mostly with each other.
It's a connection that gets them through the day as they reminisce about how they met, their early marriage when all they could afford for transportation was a bicycle, his Parkinson's and their rewarding years at La Puerta de Oro senior center, which means â€œgolden doorâ€ in English.
Anita Martinez was director for Oklahoma City's first Hispanic center, which is still the state's only Spanish-speaking center, from 1975 to 2005. She traveled across the country, talking about the center and what made it so successful. She still volunteers there two days a week.
After retiring from Tinker Air Force Base in 1981, Jesse Martinez started driving a bus for the Salvation Army, which provides rides to the center so the elderly can enjoy a hot meal, socialize, have fun and learn a bit of English. He, too, retired in 2005.
â€œWhen he went to work with me, oh, it made it so nice,â€ Anita said. â€œOur offices were right next to each other.â€
She said one day she asked him, â€œViejo, did you ever think you'd work over here with me?â€
â€œIf I did, I wouldn't have retired,â€ she recalls him saying.
Viejo is her nickname for him. It means old man. His for her is vieja, or old woman.
â€œAll of the people at the center know him as that,â€ she said.
Anita is 80; Jesse is 85.
Her early days at the senior center were demanding. She did all the cooking, driving and activity planning. She even directed the band. About 100 people were at the center each weekday then; today the number is closer to 30. Bus pickup is only two days a week.
â€œWhen Mom quit cooking, she lost a lot of people,â€ said daughter Bernadette Martinez, who works for the Oklahoma County Senior Nutrition Program and is site manager of the center.
She knows it's her mother, though, who is still the heart and soul of the center.
â€œShe's the one who built it. She's the woman who networks. It's her who they come to see,â€ her daughter said.
Anita Martinez and her husband worked together when he wasn't driving the bus. Seniors liked him behind the wheel because he detoured once in a while when one of them needed milk or bread from the grocery store. All they had to do was ask. Twice he was in the right place at the right time. A woman had fallen beside her house, and he found her. Another time a man had a heart attack, and he revived him.
â€œIt wasn't boring,â€ he said. â€œI enjoyed working with the senior citizens.â€
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